I Think We Need to Adjust Our Thinking On This "Addiction" Thing, 'Murica
People who know me know that I've fought a constant battle against addiction since a relatively young age. By the time I was 15, I had been court ordered to my first rehab program and things have only progressed since then.
I've found myself taking a lot of different stances at varying points in my life, and have done a lot of research on this subject. I've been staunchly opposed to any form of moderation or abstinence before. I've also been a fully devoted member of 12 step programs complete with a homegroup and a sponsor before. I personally feel the best method for each individual is something they need to find on their own. Right now I do attend AA meetings, but I feel for me the best method is a form of moderation. I believe in mental health communtities they call my method "Harm Reduction".
I'll get to my personal stance on abstinence in a bit, but first I've decided I want to share some of what I've learned with you guys today. Most of the essay is really going to be aimed at rethinking how society looks at drugs, because many drugs have a lot of very positive benefits for society if people would open their minds.
First up, I'm gonna talk about the big one: Medical Marijuana. Many people see arguing for medicinal as a sneaky way for party bros to toke up, but there really is *a lot* of good reasons to make this wonderful medicine available outside of the party-hard black market.
Marijuana is a much more effective painkiller than opiates, along with having very strong nausea suppressing and appetite inducing properties that make it great for patients undergoing things like chemotherapy. There's also evidence that it inhibits cancer growth.
Just the fact that it's a more effective painkiller than opiates means we can put a huge dent in the opiate epidemic just by legalizing medical marijuana, and there's tons of data from the states that have legalized which shows legal pot lowers opiate abuse and overdoses. We would know more, but stigma prevents proper research being done on this fantastic medicine.
That stigma towards medical marijuana is so weird to me, because opiate painkillers are essentially medical heroin. I've been addicted to opiates before. I've shot up heroin. I've shot up oxycontin/oxycodone... If it's an opiate, you can safely assume it's found its way into my bloodstream on more than one occasion. If you put a morphine 100 on a table next to a half gram of heroin and told me to pick one, I'd take the morphine. Any experienced opiate addict would. Opiate addiction usually starts with a prescription and heroin is just used as a stand-in for what the addict really wants once they stop getting a script.
Heroin isn't the only medically legal hard drug. Meth is medically prescribed as desoxyn for ADHD. Cocaine is used as a painkiller; Coca-Cola has a third party remove it from the coca leaves they use in their soda, and then ships it en masse to a pharma company called Malinckrodt to be used for medicinal purposes.
The fact that society accepts medicinal heroin, medicinal meth, and medicinal cocaine but fights medicinal marijuana is insane.
The stigma that causes that double standard is what I'm here to address, because not all illegal drugs are bad, and not all legal ones are good. There's also evidence that Psilocybin and MDMA can be used to treat PTSD. Ayahuasca has been shown to help with depression. Many, many drugs you assume are useless actually have data showing they're medically useful.
Meanwhile, alcohol is far more dangerous, addictive, and harmful than pretty much anything out there. If you're one of these people downing a pint of vodka every day, thinking you're somehow better than a heroin addict, I've got bad news for you: You are essentially a heroin addict.
I'm not judging, I used to down way more liquor than that. I'm just saying alcoholism is up their with opiate addiction, if not worse. Having been through both, I can say that with authority.
So far, most of what I've said applies to drugs with medicinal applications, and I certainly hope if anything you look into the benefits of decriminalizing those drugs so people stop going to prison for using an effective medication. You should know that medical application or not, the most effective drug policy in the world comes from Portugal, and it's centered around decriminalization of all drugs in consumer level quantities.
To prevent confusion, you should know the Portuguese don't just give drug cartels free reign. The manufacture, trafficking, and distribution of most controlled substances are still very serious crimes. Portugal does decriminalize the addict, however. These addicts are already suffering from a very serious mental disorder, and making their disorder a crime only exacerbates the problem and prevents them from seeking treatment. Possessing consumer quantities of any drug along with their paraphernalia is legal there, and treated similar to a speeding ticket. You go to court, you pay a fine, and you go to drug treatment. Repeat offenders are required to complete more treatment and the great part is Portuguese treatment is actually evidenced base.
Here just the paraphernalia is enough to send you to prison for years, and the treatment mandated by the courts is notoriously ineffective.
The Portuguese drug policy centers around treating addiction as a mental health issue and offering assistance to the addict, rather than criminalizing them. It also focuses on honest prevention education to stop people from developing new addictions. Now their prevention education is far different from America's D.A.R.E. program. If the massive failure that is D.A.R.E. is what popped in your head when I said prevention education, I certainly think you should look into the Portuguese system more, because their education system actually lowers drug use rates instead of increasing them.
The reason I so strongly advocate for this radical change in drug policy is because the Portuguese system is so massively effective that within the first year of instituting these policies, Portugal had reduced crime and drug use rates by 50%.
Paradoxically, it seems the way to achieve the stated goal of the war on drugs is to end the war on drugs.
In addition to switching from criminalization to treatment, American society also needs to change how it views treatment. Complete abstinence isn't be the answer for addicts. It isn't even the most common successful answer. There is another answer centered on moderation, often referred to as "Harm Reduction". For me this takes the form of just smoking pot instead of shooting dope and drinking.
Just for context, I'm extremely familiar with all things 12-step. I know the traditional view on moderation and "an easier softer way". My parents met in AA, the original 12 step program and I was raised going to the meetings around sober people. Since becoming an adult, I've been through lots of rehabs, and I've been an enthusiastic Big Book thumper at a few different times in my life. I've come very close to getting that vaunted one year chip you're trained to treasure so much in the rooms. My life is still very much attached to 12 step programs. I have a sponsor I talk to, I attend a meeting with him once a week, and I try to be as open minded towards the program as I can. I still don't see myself ever giving up smoking pot, because I don't want to stop smoking pot. My sponsor knows this, and he does his best to work with me anyway.
Blazing just doesn't carry the negative consequences shooting dope and drinking do, and I feel if I manage my life properly I'll never be pushed to a place where I need to progress past marijuana or feel the need to be high 24/7.
Really, the idea that total abstinence is 100% the only way is something that I feel makes 12 step mentalities toxic. It sets people on a cycle of binging and abstinence. I'd get 3 months sober then go on a month long binge before getting 6 months sober and followed by binging non-stop for a year. There's a lot I find toxic about 12 step programs. The way people are taught to value others based on how much clean time they have is bunk. The way everyone is taught to judge people and grade them on how "good" of a program they work stifles free thought. Living in constant fear of the judgement and rejection I'd get if I relapsed led to me never truly enjoying the times I spent sober. There's a lot that's good in the rooms of 12 step programs, but there's just as much that's toxic right there beside it. Often it's hard for someone who's new to tell the difference.
This more realistic course of action where I follow AA principles and work the steps while practicing moderation has led to my life improving and becoming more stable than it has ever been.
I can be rigorously honest, take inventory of myself, right my wrongs to the best of my ability, and help others while also burning down a fat ass blunt every couple days. The actions aren't mutually exclusive. Sometimes, I find it hilarious that AA literature preaches open-mindedness while simultaneously making statements that cause people to close their minds. Most of the time though, that fact just makes me sad. Our largest support group for addicts trying to break the cycle actively shuns and villianizes the vast majority of addicts.
If someone decides they prefer total abstinence and can't do it any other way, I understand and support that. I just don't like the idea that total abstinence is the *only* way and all other methods are doomed to failure, because that's not realistic for a lot of people in my experience.
Telling people like myself we can only have none at all or a full-on downward spiral as our choices, and telling us its our fault if "none at all" is unacceptable, just pushes us away from recovery and villianizes it in our minds. I know people's inability to see things my way pushed me away from recovery for an extremely long time. People's unwillingness to attempt looking at things from my perspective built a very real resentment towards the program in my mind.
To this day, I have a hard time speaking openly in the rooms of AA, despite much of my social life being built around them. The people there are just too judgemental. You need to work THEIR program the way THEY work it and do things THEIR way, or they're gonna blow down on you for it. They treat the situation like recovery has a one-size-fits-all solution, and it doesn't. They see it as saving people like me, when really all they've done in my life was turn me off to the idea of getting better for a long long time.
Many people will tell you that addiction is very much rooted in shame. The idea that there was something wrong with me that made total abstinence not work actually drove a lot of my binging. I would wonder why I was such a f$%^-up that couldn't stay sober, which would make me get high, which would make me wonder why I was such a f$%^-up that couldn't stay sober. The constant judgement you see from a lot of 12-steppers really didn't help at all.
Someone making me believe there actually was an easier softer way is the only reason I'm not dead right now.
People in the program have a lot of pre-built talking points for people like me. "Clown hasn't finished his act" "Constitutionally incapable of being honest with himself" yada yada and so on and so forth. A look at the statistical success rate of 12-step programs shows that they really aren't qualified to tell anyone how to stay sober though. If you go off the least forgiving statistics, 12 step programs have the same success rate as doing nothing at all. Even the most staunch supporter of the program will tell you the vast majority of people who come in the door don't stay sober.
Even though this essay makes me sound really resentful, I actually value 12 step programs for a lot of reasons, and couldn't see my life without being a member of one.The core AA principles of honesty and open-mindedness are great. I love the program's emphasis on meditation. The practice of taking an honest look at myself and fixing my wrongs to the best of my ability is crucial to my recovery from sociopathy. The biggest thing 12 step programs provide me with is a group of people who may understand, and who have similar goals of breaking the cycle of addiction. The steps have some validity and I definitely do take inventory regularly these days. I've referred to this writing project of mine as a very elaborate 4th and 5th step many times. However, many of their views and behaviors are things that I see as toxic to my emotional wellbeing, and I'm very careful with who I talk to in the program and what advice I listen to because of that.
This "Smoke pot two to three times a week" thing I have going is a lot better than the "Shoot up $100 worth of painkillers and then chase it with a liter of whiskey" plan I used to operate on. I'm in touch with mental health professionals, I take my medication willingly, and all in all I'm a much happier person for it. Maybe some day, I'll come around to complete abstinence, but for me moderation seems to be the only option that works.
That isn't to say I'm an angel. I can still eff up and fall off the wagon if I'm not careful. Just recently I had such a slip and ended up spending a month binging on meth. Such slips are often used as justification to toss the moderation baby out with the bath water in other peoples eyes. There's lots of people in my life who have mindsets deeply rooted in the rooms of AA, and they refuse to believe that moderation is possible, even though statistically moderation is how the majority of addicts find relief.
Simply put, I don't see total abstinence as a viable option. It just isn't what I *want* for myself and from my life. People in the program often say you need to want it to get it, and I'm just following that piece of very true advice.
Well, there you have it. I'm most definitely gonna have more essays on addiction in the future, but I wanted to get this big one out the way first.